With Pedro Alvarez back in Triple-A until the end of the minor league season, the Pirates don’t have a lot of great options at third base. The team seems like it might be biding its time until Chase d’Arnaud comes off of the disabled list by playing Josh Harrison at third, but neither option there seems to be a remotely viable one. As bad as Pedro Alvarez and his .196/.264/.284 line have been this year, Harrison and d’Arnaud have been almost as bad. Harrison’s batting .255, but because he’s drawn just one walk in 105 plate appearances his OBP is actually lower than Alvarez’s at .262 and because he only has four doubles among his 26 hits, he’s slugging just .294. d’Arnaud’s actually a bit worse with his .224/.245/.294 line. Neither has played anything resembling passable defense.
I know both guys are young (24 for d’Arnaud, 23 for Harrison), but d’Arnaud’s never been a standout minor league hitter and Harrison’s never been able to talk anything resembling a walk anywhere, so it’s possible the ceiling isn’t terribly high on either guy. But the Pirates do have a third baseman that’s hit relatively well lately who plays slick defense at third base. It’s Brandon Wood.
No one’s going to confuse the Pirates’ Brandon Wood for the guy Baseball America rated as the #3 prospect in baseball back in 2006. He’s not going to be that guy. Still, he’s much improved over his time with the Angels and since June, he’s hitting .239/.301/.418, even including his recent slump in August. He’s cut way back on his strikeouts with the Pirates this year (his K/PA is 25.4% with the Pirates, which is still bad, but not nearly as bad as his Los Angeles numbers) and his walk rate is up to an almost-acceptable 8%. I think that a lot of his success has to do with the way that Clint Hurdle works him into games against lefties and in situations where he’s more likely to succeed, but it’s hard to deny that he’s been way more successful at the plate as a Pirate than both Harrison and d’Arnaud.
Long-term, Wood’s offense is likely still going to be a liability for him as a third baseman. It’s true that in the depressed offensive environment of 2011 that third baseman are hitting about on par with second basemen and shortstops with a .249/.313/.379 line that makes Wood’s run since June technically above-average for a third baseman, but I don’t know how long that will last and I’m not sure that Wood can hit much better than he has with the Pirates this season (remember that even though he’s only 26, his strikeout numbers in the minors are terrible and his track record before this year was just AWFUL), but his age, his increase in production at the plate this year, and his defense are enough to make me think he deserves a few weeks worth of starts. Can he keep putting up a passable offensive line every night, against tough righties as well as lefties? Could he settle in with regular starts and even hit a little better? He won’t hit well enough to play third, but could he hit well enough to force a conversation about playing short over Ronny Cedeno (this really is an entirely different conversation, because not only does it involve offensive talk, it involves the reproducibility of Cedeno’s career year in the field and the source of Wood’s defensive problems at short and whether he’s hamstrung by an inherent lack of range or something more correctible like bad footwork)?
The core idea here, though, is that both Harrison and d’Arnaud have been bad enough with the Pirates thus far in 2011 that I’m not sure that six good weeks should convince me, or anyone, that they need to start 2012 anywhere other than Triple-A. Wood, though, is the sort of player they need to get a read on as soon as possible. With Alvarez down and Harrison and d’Arnaud not stepping up, I think now’s the time to do it.